In the most famous novella about fly fishing in Montana, Norman Maclean referred to his brother Paul’s special way of getting a rise out of a trout by repeatedly making a long false cast over a feeding lane or pocket: “He called it shadow casting. Keeping his line above water long enough and low enough to make a rainbow rise.”
I have my own version of shadow casting, though it’s not nearly as cool as the one described in “A River Runs Through It.” It does work, however.
I use it, pretty much out of necessity, in the season of the long shadows, with low sun in the afternoon and a blinding glare on the riffly waters of the river.
Unwilling to cast into the glare, I turn my back to the sun and look downstream for rising trout. My shadow is long on the river at this time of year, and that could scare off the trout. That’s what the old guys advised years ago when I first started to fish with flies: Don’t ever wear white shirts when you fish, they said. Don’t wade like some clumsy ole clodhopper, they said. And don’t cast your shadow over the feeding lanes, you’ll spook fish.
So you stand back, aware of your long shadow, and cast past it. I like a nice, high-arch downstream cast that parachutes softly into the feeding lane. The idea is to make the fly land in a spot — not too riffly, not too flat — that looks like a trout restaurant. Sometimes, with a good drift, the parachute cast works, and instantly so. But even when it doesn’t, you’ve made an enticing cast — the whole thing unfolding right in front of you, without sun in your eyes — and you can wade on, you and your shadow, proud and pleased.